Bottom of the Pile: July 26th, 2017

And we back and we back and we back....

If you didn't know, this is Bottom of the Pile, the oldest column on Jumping in Headfirst, where I take the week's comics and do my imitation of commentary--it can be anything from silly comments and observations all the way up to mini-reviews.   Why Bottom of the Pile?  Because I believe in saving the best comics for last, so if you're looking at these, these are usually seven to twelve of the best comics of the week.

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Action Comics
Action Comics #984
Story Title: "Revenge" Conclusion 
Creative Team: Dan Jurgens, Patrick Zircher

I think at this point all possibility of "Mr. Oz" being Ozymandias has gone right out the window.  I always thought that was a bit of an obvious red herring to begin with, as that character wouldn't have much reason to interact with Superman, much less to be helping him as much as he seems to be lately.

There's a theory started by Bleeding Cool that this is in fact Jor-El, and he's helping his son get his life back together after he's witnessed all the cosmic wackiness that's gone on, changing and altering his son again and again. And given how Mr. Oz basically just admitted being familiar with Kryptonian battle armor, it's at this point it's safe to assume that's exactly who this is.

To what end, though?  Super-Dad can't really have a father figure, not the way they're writing him.  Does Jor-El reveal himself to have been some kind of villain this whole time, or is he killed off by one of the many people he's kidnapped?   I really hope they're bold enough to do something exciting with the character, if they went through all the trouble of bringing him back.

Speaking of come backs...Zod's family gets to return this issue.  Anyone else get a chill down their spine when someone said the words "New Krypton"?  It's been nearly ten years...still not long enough not to dredge up memories of that awful crossover that ended the New Krypton storyline.

Ben Reilly: Scarlet Spider
Ben Reilly: Scarlet Spider #5
Creative Team: Peter David, Mark Bagley, John Dell, Jason Keith

Continuing the story of the returning Ben Reilly, we see the other Peter clone Kaine finally tracking him down after four issues of hunting, which immediately starts this issue off with a massive brawl.  Funny, the first time I started reading Spider-Man Kaine was trying to kill Ben too.  Guess some things never change...

All jokes aside, this issue is basically Kaine trying to dole out "dark justice" to Ben for his actions during The Clone Conspiracy, and it just reminds me that ultimately Peter Parker can be kind of a dick.  Think about it; every variation we see on the guy just ends up being jerky, manipulative, arrogant/over-confident...even Peter himself was headed down that road until he got his Uncle Ben killed.  The massive guilt he suffers is what keeps all that other stuff in check.

Also Kaine's a bit of a hypocrite here.  Ultimately Ben's actions were wrong, but Kaine spent the first year or so of his life making Ben and Peter's lives miserable.  He's so eager to deal out "justice" here without considering that whether he's right or not, he should be the last person trying to do it.  You can tell the old Parker luck is much worse on the both of them, however.   Pete could've easily talked someone down from shooting him...but Ben has to try and master catching bullets.  Guess it's good he's got the proportionate strength and reaction of...ah, well.  You know.

Detective Comics
Detective Comics 961
Title: Intelligence Part 4: "Ghost in the Shell"
Creative Team: James Tynion IV, Alvaro Martinez, Raul Fernandez, Brad Anderson

This week's Detective Comics continues the team's fight against Ascalon, the twisted programming Azrael/Jean-Paul received from the cultish Order of St. Dumas given it's own, robotic form. In this issue, the programming has taken control of Jean-Paul as well as multiple armors Batwing had been designing, while getting ready to cast judgment on the last of the order. Alongside that, we continue with the flashbacks of Bruce and Zatanna's youth, and the first time Bruce was mindwiped after being introduced to the world of magic.  Y'know, eventually the mind-wiping thing is going to have to stop or its going to make Bruce seem highly ineffective.

This entire arc is very much a "what's old is new again" sort of deal, as everything's kind of headed towards putting Jean-Paul back in the original Bat-armor--y'know, the one with the bat-shaped, razor sharp shurikens, though with a lot less meaningless pouches.   

But what I really wanted to talk about here is how Detective seems to be meaningfully moving Bruce's character forward.  Starting with his "reboot" in the 80's, Bruce kind of became less of a hero and more of a menace--he solved violence with violence which is one thing, but he also thought the most effective way to stop crime was alone, pushing away any and every offer of help.  Now considering Gotham is a metropolitan city, him trying to force everyone away to "go it alone" means he'll never truly finish the job, because it's too huge for just one man.

But this isn't that guy.  Though he's still very much damaged, his acceptance of help to patrol the streets of Gotham is proof that he's more interested in saving his city than working out his own psychological issues by beating up bad guys.  By bringing people into his inner circle--even going so far as to call them his "family" in this issue--it means that he's trying to heal himself from the trauma he suffered all those years ago as a child.  These are his children, his brothers and sisters in arms--and hopefully by the end of Tynion's run on the characters Gotham will have gotten a little "cleaner", in order to show just how much more effective this version of Bruce's war can be.

 Faith and the Future Force
Faith and the Future Force #1
Creative Team: Jody Houser, Stephen Segovia, Barry Kitson, Ulises Arreola

I started reading the Valiant comics universe earlier this year--I began at the very start of things, with the ongoings of Bloodshot, X-O Manowar, and Archer and Armstrong and gradually continued until I caught up...somewhat.  They're a fascinating study at how to properly do the whole "shared universe" thing DC and Marvel are known for, without actually having much in the way of what you'd see as classic "superheroes", aside from Faith here.  They have what has to be one of the best group of editors in comics, as they keep the line as cohesive as possible but without ever letting that get in the way of a creative team's vision.

With Faith and the Future Force, it looks like we're getting one of those old school team-ups that requires the entire line-up of Valiant "heroes" in order to save all of time from being cracked in half.  This book already has me on its side by featuring Neela Seethi--anything from Ivar, the Timewalker catches my attention--but I'm actually on board for seeing what could be so deadly that it demands the attention of all the Valiant characters.  Last time we saw everyone gather to fight a single threat...everyone basically lost terribly so one assumes it couldn't get much worse than that, right?  Well.  Hopefully.

At any rate, Jody Houser's already taking advantage of the wibbly-wobbly nature of stories about time to play with paradoxes and self-fulfilling prophecies, so I've got faith in her that this is going to end up being a pretty awesome crossover.

Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps
Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #25
Title: Fracture Conclusion: The Long War
Creative Team: Robert Venditti, Ethan Van Sciver, Jason Wright
 
He was never a hypocrite, but he was certainly a murderer, a liar, and a malicious dictator who ruled your home-world with an iron fist.  And also, since he was all those things, he quite possibly was a hypocrite as well.

Well, after twenty-five issues it finally happened.  After not really having a terrible amount of faith in Venditti to do right by my favorite DC characters given his New 52 run, I was shocked (in a good way) by how well done his "Rebirth" run on the characters were.  Issue after issue he brought the prestige and sheer badassery back to the Corps, without losing the epic adventure feel.  Arguably, he even made the team "better" than they were during Johns run, as they were able to handle fights without losing members by the dozens.

But this issue placed a yellow-colored brick wall in front of the momentum train, as Soranik turned to the dark side after discovering her ex-boyfriend Kyle had been responsible for killing their future son.  This was as full a turn as we could get, as she ended the treaty between the GLs and the Sinestro Corps, and took on the name Soranik Sinestro, which admittedly has quite the ring to it...but that ring is still false.   It's as if they realized they'd strayed too far from status quo, and had to reset things a bit.

The problem is Soranik hated her father.  Even when she learned there was more to him than she believed, she still never trusted him--he wanted to rule through fear, and she lived on the planet where she saw what that meant first hand.  Everything about her made her seem like the opposite of her father, right down to her becoming a surgeon because she wanted to save lives rather than take them.  And while what finally made her turn was "big", the truth is nothing could quite be big enough to literally take one character and turn them into another.   What I'm hoping is that Parallax had to go somewhere after Sinestro died, and it secretly went and hid inside of Soranik, slowly wearing her down until this traumatic event allowed it to take control of her mind.  If that's where we're at, then we can turn this story around.  But if they just want to do a nature trumps nurture sort of story, then this is first officially bad turn of this comic.

The Flash
The Flash #27
Running Scared Conclusion: "I Will Possess Your Heart"
Creative Team: Joshua Williamson, Paul Pelletier, Howard Porter, Andrew Hennessy

Speaking of otherwise good comics that suddenly took a bad turn...the ending to the first story since the close of "The Button"...kinda sucked.  For one thing, I've been struggling with this whole Reverse-Flash being faster than Barry.  Since when?    Certainly in the show, but even that was shown to be because Thawne traveled back to before Barry knew how to use his powers.  At their best, the most you could say is that they're even, but honestly--he's not called "The Fastest Man Alive" just because it's a good tagline.

Secondly...what's the point of this death scene, outside of giving Iris revenge for a version of herself being killed back in the eighties?   Thawne was literally killed by (presumably) Dr. Manhattan during "The Button" just two months ago, and he's supposed to be a god or whatever, and inexplicably he comes back...only to be killed again?   What's the difference?

We're finally going to explain the whole "Negative Speed Force" thing next issue, but aside from that the only thing we got from this is making Barry's life a shambles because of his secret identity.  But we already did that, pre-Rebirth so now it feels like we're (pun not intended) running in circles.  Still, with things moving towards a new arc I trust we'll be back on track next issue.

Transformers: Lost Light
Transformers: The Lost Light #8
Title: An Axe to Break the Ice
Creative Team: James Roberts, Priscilla Tramontano, Joana Lafuente

I am...honestly not sure Transformers can take another five clans.  It was one thing when it was just Autobots and Decepticons--two very simple sides.  You had good, and you had evil--that was it.  The start of Transformers: Robots in Disguise back in 2011 introduced a third side--the neutral people, who left when it became obvious that civil war was on the horizon for Cybertron millions of years back.  Then a few years back in the aftermath of Dark Cybertron, we revealed there were several colonies of Cybertronian who left even further back.  This was a way of including some of the Transformers from other cartoon series, but I couldn't tell most of them apart if I tried.  The Camiens stick out because they're a race of female Transformers.  Then you have Velocitron, which I only remember because they're a speed-obsessed society so I just imagine a race of Blurrs...which is, terrifying.   There's Elita One's weird, duplicitous group whose name I can't recall, and then the ones based on the Maximals and Predacons.   There's several more, but without proper development to them and their planets, there's no way I could remember them.

So adding another five clans?  I barely remember the ones we have, and I've read nearly every IDW Transformer comic released since 2011, and at least 70% of the ones released from 2006-2010. I love the continuous building of the lore, but I also would prefer if things didn't get too complicated for their own good.

Setting that aside, this was another knock-out issue for Lost Light, James Roberts' way-too-good-for-Transformers science fiction epic.  It manages to push forward the plot with some of our newest characters as they continue on their journey to find the Knights of Cybertron, but it also does something else that  I found fascinating: in a single page, Roberts explains the point of introducing gender to the Transformers.

I'll admit, I was initially resolutely against having female Transformers, but only because I never thought of the Transformers as being male to begin with.  I thought of them as machines capable of independent thought and having their own personas, but not really as "humans"--they shouldn't really understand how gender works to begin with.  But Roberts raises a great point this issue: that after the Cybertronians went into space and began interacting with all sorts of cultures, most of which would not be robotic and certainly would have concepts of gender, it would be weird if some of the Transformers wouldn't grow and change, adapting those same concepts because they felt like they identified with them. 

What's even better is that nearly seven years of Roberts' stories have been him showing his work so this moment makes sense. He's been humanizing these characters to the point that MTMTE/Lost Light Transformers feel like people you would legitimately want to be around.  They have personas that remind you of people you know, rather than just being these superheroes/villains locked in an eternal struggle for supremacy.  The moment the war was over, that needed to go away and we needed to stop looking at these things like walking WMDs and more like actual living beings, and I'm happy that James Roberts was bold enough creatively to take those steps and get us there, because it's resulted in some fantastic stories, and its helped me grow as a person.


The Unbelievable Gwenpool 
The Unbelievable Gwenpool #18
Creative Team: Christopher Hastings, Gurihiru

I could be wrong, but I'm fairly certain this is the most any superhero's ever done with the fourth wall.  Deadpool's aware he's a comic book character and plays it for laughs.  Animal Man used it as pathos during Grant Morrison's run.  But judging from this issue, Gwenpool is literally able to exist in the "gutter"--the white space between panels that indicates the passage of time.  It was one thing when she was just aware of who our heroes were and what they'd been through in their past, but this is a huge upgrade that just allows her to alter her own reality as she sees fit.   I'm sure the girl whose first thought upon arriving in an alternate universe was to don a costume and start indiscriminately murdering villainous goons will use those powers responsibly!
 
WWE
WWE #7
Creative Team: Dennis Hopeless, Serg Acuna, Tim Latte, Doug Garbark, Andy Belander, Andrew Stott, Serge Lapointe

As much as I love BOOM's WWE comic, I feel like this is the first issue where the logic of things kinda breaks down.  Writer Dennis Hopeless' goal here has been to show us the lives of our favorite Superstars outside of the ring, and he's done that with ease thus far, adding development to Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, and even everyone's favorite Boss, Sasha Banks.

But he took Bray Wyatt a little too seriously, and made it seem like Windham Rotunda is actually his Wyatt character.  Which would be fine if this were Lucha Underground--a universe where you have animal tribes and evil gods and people routinely die and return from the dead.  Most importantly, LU's a universe where the wrestling occurs in an illegal fighting arena that's run by Dario Cueto, who's a murderer that's wanted by the police.  Yeah, you can do anything you want in that world.

But if we're going to set things in the real world in "WWE", they're a real world company that's publicly traded.  So you're going to tell me they're allowing an actual cult leader, who actually kidnaps people (as he does here with Sasha) and forces them to join his group, into their wrestling arena?  The end of this issue literally sees the Wyatts start chasing down Sasha and Dean after they escape! Why hasn't anyone called the cops?  Why is he signed to a WWE contract?  And why, if you've got a cult--do you care so much about wrestling?   I've got so many questions and I feel like all the answers are going to be silly. 

Still, the action and characterization is as solid as ever this issue, and I am absolutely amazed by how much character Hopeless is able to add that the actual WWE product so desperately needs.

X-O Manowar
X-O Manowar #5
Creative Team: Matt Kindt, Doug Braithwaite, Diego Rodriguez

As I said earlier, I started reading X-O Manowar earlier this year--and while I didn't quite get current by the time this came out, I figured I knew enough to start reading this series.  And I'll be honest, the creative team here are doing a glorious job with this weird epic space fantasy of a barbarian former king.  There's a lot of questions left to be answered--like why our hero Aric has started to look at the armor like an anathema after so many years of being bonded to it constantly, why he left his past wife and Earth in the first place, and how he got to Planet Gorin ---but the story itself is pretty awesome, filled with twists and lots of gritty action that grips you from page one and doesn't let go until the end, every month.

So far with this volume of X-O, Aric's become an unstoppable Conan-esque warrior, and he's single-handedly turned the tide of war on this planet in favor of the Azure, who he's been living among, but of course things are never that simple.   There's more to it all than just saving the good guys from the bad guys (there always is), and now that we've become acclimated to this new world, Kindt's started introducing us to the complexities of this planet with these past two issues.  Ultimately it's all been building up to next month's issue--where Aric is faced with a threat that's finally worthy of him wearing the armor.  One thing I'll say is that I appreciate how much due Kindt's giving the armor here.  In issue #1 Aric tears off a piece of the X-O suit and fashions a ring out of it--and with just that one ring he's proceeded to tear through an army that's been dominant for what seems to be decades.   One can only imagine what Aric will be capable of now that he's donned the armor...or what the enemy that's forcing him to is capable of to force him to do it.

That's it for this week's comics.  I'll see you back here next week with looks at more DC stuff, more Indie stuff, and whatever Marvel lets me have that isn't all wrapped up in Secret Empire.

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